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School meals reduce student dropout rate

  • Published at 10:32 pm September 28th, 2019
Students in a classroom at a primary school in Bandarban Dhaka Tribune

The drop-out rate in Bamna upazila schools in Barguna is only 1.02%, while in other upazilas where meals have not been introduced it is 7.8%

School meals have made a significant contribution in reducing the dropout rate of students encouraging them to stay in schools in the Bamna upazila of Barguna district.

Suman Hossain, son of Altaf Hossain of the Chhoto Bhai Jora village in the Bamna upazila, has been eating the school meal at noon. “I enjoy a lot when I eat hotchpotch (khichuri) mixed with different varieties of vegetables.  It is delicious and I come to school every day to have khichuri,” he said. 

This is how many children of poor families of the Chhoto Bhai Jora village narrated their enjoyment of having mid-day meals at school.

Laki Akhtar, wife of Md Sohel of the Chhoto Bhai Jora village, said: “Due to financial hardships, we are unable to provide adequate meals to our children. I am a mother of two children. My son Sohel is a student of grade three and he does not want to miss his classes because of the midday school meal.

“The school meal is really helping us a lot… I am happy because my child is having nutritious food.” 

Sherina Akther, assistant director of Shushilan, one of the implementation organizations of School Feeding Program in the Bamna upazila, said the school feeding program has made a significant contribution in reducing the dropout rate in the Bamna upazila.

“If we compare other upazilas of the Barguna district, where the school meal program has not been introduced, student dropout is higher than in Bamna upazila,” she said.

The drop-out rate at primary schools in the upazila is only 1.02% while the average dropout rate in other upazilas is 7.8%, Sherina Akther added.

The World Food Program-funded (WFP) funded school feeding program has supplemented the efforts of the government to cut the student dropout rate, she said, adding that the WFP and local NGO Shushilan are implementing a project under which children of relatively poverty-stricken families are getting meals in their classes.

Many guardians in rural Bangladesh cannot arrange a moderate meal for their children because of poverty, KM Enamul Hoque, deputy director of Campaign for Popular Education said, adding that kids with empty and half-empty stomachs cannot pay attention in class and eventually lose interest in school.

The school feeding program was introduced in the Bamna upazila of the Barguna district and Islampur upazila of the Jamalpur district in 2013, while it was introduced in the Lama upazila of the Barguna district in 2018. These three upazilas were selected as pilot projects keeping in mind the poverty in those area.

The goals of the project were to increase school enrolment and attendance, reduce repetition and dropout rate and improve attention and learning capacity of students by tackling hunger.

On August 19, the government approved the draft of the National School Meal Policy, 2019 setting a target to bring students of all government primary schools under the universal midday meal coverage by 2023. 

The midday meal would have to meet 30% calories and 50% micronutrients of the primary school students aged 3 to 12 years, the Primary and Mass Education Ministry sources said. 

As many as 14 million students of 66,000 government primary schools across Bangladesh will be provided with midday meals by 2023. It will require Tk2,835 crore every year for providing fortified biscuits to the students, Tk5,560crore for providing cooked food, five days a week and biscuits every day, and Tk7,475 crore to give an egg, a banana and bread, they added.

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